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Overall

TD Ameritrade charges more than its competitors but delivers with fantastic platforms, research, mobile apps, education, and customer service. The all-round experience makes TD Ameritrade our #1 broker for 2017.

By Blain Reinkensmeyer / February 21st, 2017 / Updated: June 1st, 2017

Dislikes
  • Pricey stock and options commissions
  • Short-term trading fee charged if a commission-free ETF is sold within 30 days of purchase
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Data:

In the process of searching for a well-rounded broker, finding the right mix is no easy task. Trade costs, trade platforms, tools, research, and customer service all are important to investors.

After using a TD Ameritrade account, you cannot help but love the overall experience. The broker charges $6.95 per trade, almost twice that of some of the cheaper discount brokers. However, the value and quality delivered is so superior it easily justifies the higher price tag.

Commissions & Fees

While having access to 24/7 customer support, advanced trade platforms, ample research, real-time streaming quotes site wide and more is great; unfortunately, it is expensive. TD Ameritrade charges a flat rate of $6.95 per trade, with options costing $6.95, plus $.75 per contract.

Compared to other full-service brokers, TD Ameritrade is on par with ETRADE, but is more expensive than the rest, including Charles Schwab, Fidelity, and Scottrade. In fact, considering margin costs, TD Ameritrade is the most expensive broker out of the 16 included in our 2017 Review.

TD AmeritradeE*TRADECharles SchwabFidelity
Stock Trade Fee (flat)$6.95$6.95$4.95$4.95
Options Base Fee$6.95$6.95$4.95$4.95
Options Per Contract Fee$0.75$0.75$0.65$0.65
Mutual Fund Trade Fee$49.99$19.99$76.00$49.95
Broker Assisted Trades Fee$44.99$25.00$25.00$32.95
Commission Free ETFs10113322991
Commissions & Fees 2.5 Stars 2.5 Stars 3.5 Stars 3 Stars

One bright spot is that TD Ameritrade offers 101 commission-free ETFs (Charles Schwab offers the most, with 229). The only caveat is that, with TD Ameritrade, any commission-free ETF that is sold within 30 days of purchase is subject to a short-term trading fee of $19.99.

UPDATE 03/06/17 – TD Ameritrade reduced its equity commissions. Equity trades, including stocks and ETFs, have been lowered to $6.95 per trade (previously $9.99). Since these new rates were announced after the 2017 Review was published, they are not incorporated into TD Ameritrade's star rating for this category.

Customer Service

If having access to 24/7 customer support by phone and email is important to you, then TD Ameritrade has you covered. The broker posted fantastic results for phone and email during testing for our 2017 Review, finishing No. 1 and No. 3, respectively.

When it comes to support, the bottom line is that for a full-service broker, great customer service is expected, and TD Ameritrade delivers, regardless of the communication avenue.

During our phone tests, our average wait time was less than two minutes. The reps were very well trained. Every test call we made to TD Ameritrade, regardless of the day or time, was answered by a customer service agent who identified him/herself, provided a pleasant introduction, and always left us with a warm closing note (e.g., “Have a great day”). All our questions were always answered, so it was not surprising to see TD Ameritrade end up No. 1 for phone customer service out of 16 brokers.

Email testing was also a great experience. All our emails were returned within 12 hours, on average. In fact, in one test, TD Ameritrade responded to our multi-question support inquiry in a blazingly fast 11 minutes.  Customer service agents were clearly well trained, as email templates were consistent and thorough. Of all our eight email tests, two resulted in a “good” overall score, with the rest being “great.” TD Ameritrade finished third for email.

Live chat support is also offered, but only for clients seeking platform support while using thinkorswim, or for potential clients who navigate around the site long enough to trigger a live chat popup. Knowing how the web is evolving and how millennials prefer to communicate, I would like to see TD Ameritrade offer live chat support for all clients and potential clients. TD Ameritrade finished third for live chat.

When it comes to support, the bottom line is that for a full-service broker, great customer service is expected, and TD Ameritrade delivers, regardless of the communication avenue. TD Ameritrade finished first overall for Customer Service in our 2017 Review.

Research

Like its biggest competitors, Fidelity, Charles Schwab, and ETRADE, TD Ameritrade has a substantial research offering.

TD AmeritradeFidelity E*TRADEMerrill EdgeCharles Schwab
Equity Research - Social Sentiment Yes Yes Yes No Yes
Equity Research - Metric Comparisons Yes Yes No Yes Yes
Equity Research - Research Reports712438
ETF Research - Research Reports Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Mutual Fund Research - Research Reports Yes No Yes Yes Yes

When I pulled up a quote for Apple (AAPL), I found a clean spread of relevant data, including seven different third-party research reports to choose from and read, which is the third highest number in the industry (Fidelity offers 12). The featured research report provider is ResearchTeam, which combines five research providers into one.

TD Ameritrade research stock quote

Providing clients quality research is an extremely competitive challenge. Of all the functionality provided on the website, I found TD Ameritrade had two outstanding functions: the Social Signals tab and the Peer Comparison tab. Powered by LikeFolio, Social Signals displays both a real-time streaming feed of algorithmically filtered brand-relevant tweets – which I found much better than seeing a list of recent StockTwits tweets – and a summary chart of the most-tweeted brands. Naturally, Social Signals is best used for consumer-focused brands such as Apple (AAPL) or Nike (NKE). In thinkorswim (covered further down) the data can be charted for deeper analysis.

TD Ameritrade Social Sentiment

On the Peer Comparison tab, investors find a clean customizable chart showing the stock’s performance against its closest competitors followed by a comparison table of relevant metrics. Included competitors can also be shown or hidden. Clean peer comparisons are not easy to do, which is where TD Ameritrade stands out. Metrics included in the table are relevant and pruned to the most important. Social Signals data is also tied in; however, I found this data did not appear each time I loaded the page, and data was missing for certain securities. Data was marked as “New” during my testing, so I imagine the data will be worked out in time.

TD Ameritrade peer comparison

Social Signals and peer comparisons aside, I also enjoyed the on-site charting functionality. With 34 different technical indicators (volume, MACD, RSI, etc.) and easy-to-read, big charts, the experience is as clean as you will find anywhere. I could even pop out the chart into its own window to expand it across my 24-inch monitor. The only downside to the experience is the lack of panning flexibility on the chart itself. Charting is driven by provider SunGard, and my recommendation to TD Ameritrade would be to check out ChartIQ instead.

TD Ameritrade stock chart

For the price customers pay per trade, excellent research should be expected. When all 51 variables for Research are considered, TD Ameritrade lacks only two features: displaying the total number of holdings for ETFs, and a country allocation chart for Mutual Funds. Impressive, to say the least. TD Ameritrade finished third behind Fidelity and Charles Schwab for Research in 2017.

Ease of Use

Making research a seamless experience is just one part of TD Ameritrade’s efforts to make its website easy to use. The site-wide quote bar streams real-time quotes – functionality that Charles Schwab, ETRADE, and Fidelity do not offer – and includes SnapTicket, a quick trade extension that allows stock and option orders to be placed from any page on the site.

TD Ameritrade snapticket

TD Ameritrade also offers a fully customizable sidebar, My Dock, which allows clients to display up to 13 different modules. Modules can be resorted or placed into separate columns, allowing clients with wide-screen monitors to maximize their workflow. While clean and easy to use, I found myself leaving the sidebar collapsed and hidden away. Despite having a 24-inch monitor capable of maximizing the experience, I found it to be a distraction.

TD Ameritrade My Dock

I had to dig deep to find flaws in TD Ameritrade’s client experience.

I had to dig deep to find flaws in TD Ameritrade’s client experience. After many hours of testing and comparing, I found two disappointing items that stood out: The My Account Overview experience and adding additional accounts. The default My Account page is data rich but poorly laid out and I found it to be a poor launching pad into my usual workflow. Enabling My Dock in the sidebar did little to patch the user experience. Charles Schwab Trade Source and Fidelity’s new fully responsive Accounts experience are both superior; I know TD Ameritrade can do better.

TD Ameritrade my account overview

For managing multiple accounts, I found that each new account I created required a completely new username and password. Once established and logged in, I could then link the new account to my primary user ID. This is a subtle difference from other brokers where you can simply create and add a new brokerage account to your same ID with no trouble. Minor? Yes. However, for clients with multiple accounts, it can be a confusing experience first time through.

Pickiness aside, TD Ameritrade’s platforms (discussed next) have both casual and active traders covered and the same two-pronged approach is applied to mobile, where two separate apps are offered. No doubt, TD Ameritrade shines in the category Ease of Use.

Platforms & Tools

While there are many attractive features in TD Ameritrade, the broker's two platforms are its bread and butter. The flagship platform, thinkorswim, used to be a standalone broker until TD Ameritrade acquired it in 2009.

TD AmeritradeFidelity E*TRADEMerrill EdgeCharles Schwab
Desktop Platform (Windows) Yes Yes Yes No Yes
Charting - Indicators / Studies3701661187340
Charting - Drawing Tools2222242215
Option Chains - Total Columns3326396234
Watch Lists - Total Fields4018013021694

Thinkorswim is designed for advanced traders who want complete flexibility and depth. Furthermore, it can be used by any client with no minimums or specific trade criteria required for access. This is an important advantage over both Fidelity Active Trader Pro and ETRADE Pro, which both require minimums for access.

TD Ameritrade thinkorswim

Run as a desktop application, thinkorswim is so advanced it is rivaled only by TradeStation. A few clicks of the mouse will have dozens of charts streaming real-time data, and even the pickiest trader will be satisfied with the 300+ technical studies available for each chart (highest in the industry), not to mention that each study can be customized thereafter.

TD Ameritrade thinkorswim chart

Using thinkScript, thinkorswim’s proprietary coding language, traders can even create their own indicators. This is most like TradeStation’s EasyLanguage, which is the only other broker to offer such functionality.

It’s a dazzling array of choices that will set your mind spinning – in a good way.

TD Ameritrade's thinkorswim is also home to a slew of advanced tools. Whether it be company profiling, advanced earnings analysis, plotting FRED data, charting social sentiment, backtesting and replaying historical markets tick by tick, viewing economic and corporate calendars, creating and conducting real-time stock scans, sharing charts and workspace layouts, or performing advanced options analysis, the rabbit hole goes as far as any trader's imagination will take them. It’s a dazzling array of choices that will set your mind spinning – in a good way.

TD Ameritrade stock hacker

Focusing on the two most recent innovations, adding Federal Reserve Economic Data (FRED) and the new earnings analysis tool, investors can begin to appreciate the endless brain hub stationed at thinkorswim’s Chicago office. Starting with FRED, a publicly accessible US Government database of over 400,000 economic data points; think GDP, CPI, treasury rates, median household income, etc. FRED data is used by institutional investors, hedge funds, and other sophisticated trading operations. In its never-ending quest to level the playing field, the thinkorswim team decided to download all the data, process it, build a custom interface to graph it, and brought it to all TD Ameritrade clients free.

TD Ameritrade FRED data

Make no mistake, what thinkorswim has accomplished is truly mind blowing. The only other way to view this data as seamlessly as thinkorswim is to pay up for a Bloomberg terminal.

Make no mistake, what thinkorswim has accomplished is truly mind blowing. The only other way to view this data as seamlessly as thinkorswim is to pay up for a Bloomberg terminal. Once a data set is loaded, it can be tweaked and customized, whichever way the user desires. For sophisticated investors, FRED data is extremely useful in assessing the overall health of the market or specific sectors, which is why institutions pay up to access it via Bloomberg. Thanks to thinkorswim, now any TD Ameritrade client can conduct the same analysis.

Alongside FRED analysis, thinkorswim also launched its new tool for conducting earnings analysis. In my personal trading career, I have analyzed thousands of earnings releases. Heading into an earnings event, the toughest and most time-consuming part is researching historical price action and volatility surrounding previous events, understanding how the earnings were estimated in the eyes of Wall Street, then gauging the significance of any beat or miss. Earnings analysis with thinkorswim does all of this in one clean interface.

TD Ameritrade earnings analysis

Starting with the top row, five days of price action are plotted before and after each earnings release. Next, volatility is plotted over the same time span followed by an At The Money (ATM) straddle (extremely insightful data for options traders seeking patterns and outliers in options market behavior). Finally, using data from Wall Street analysts and crowd-sourced ratings from Estimize, EPS estimate ranges alongside actual results are clearly plotted, providing an efficient way of assessing the company’s results. The whole experience together brings clarity with much less noise. It’s magic.

Both FRED data and the new earnings analysis experience launched in 2016 are two examples of many where TD Ameritrade continues to innovate and push the envelope of what is available for traders.

Both FRED data and the new earnings analysis experience launched in 2016 are two examples of many where TD Ameritrade continues to innovate and push the envelope of what is available for traders. For casual and active traders, earnings analysis with thinkorswim is truly a work of art and the best new trader tool of 2017 in my books.

One of my gripes with thinkorswim back in 2013 and 2014 was the platform’s reliability during volatile markets. On highly volatile and active trading days when there would be a large influx of clients using the system, thinkorswim would lag noticeably – sometimes for lengthy periods. Growing pains are no fun, and while it took longer than clients had hoped for, thinkorswim addressed them all. Today, thanks to the thinkorswim reskin in 2015, alongside a slew of infrastructure updates in both 2015 and 2016, thinkorswim hums along with no trouble at all. In 2017, active traders should be confident relying on thinkorswim to provide a seamless experience, regardless of the market environment.

Platform thinkorswim aside, TD Ameritrade also has a web-based platform, Trade Architect, which is designed with more casual investors in mind. The tools and functionality are purposely kept simple, and the design is clean with visual flare. Everything ran smoothly in my Chrome browser, bug-free, and I quickly became a fan of the platform-wide streaming real-time quotes.

TD Ameritrade Trade Architect

From testing every broker, the streaming watch list functionality Trade Architect offers is my favorite. It isn't just the superb layout, but also the flexibility, ease of use, and depth of data available. The layout is completely customizable, and it’s great having access to visual data such as quote trends, trade trends, 52-week range, and a strength meter.

TD Ameritrade Trade Architect Watchlist

The bottom line is simple: when it comes to Platforms & Tools in 2017, for the sixth year in a row, TD Ameritrade is on top.

Mobile Trading

With mobile trading, TD Ameritrade took a different approach by offering not one, but two smartphone apps: TD Ameritrade Mobile and TD Ameritrade Mobile Trader. TD Ameritrade Mobile is designed for new and casual investors, while TD Ameritrade Mobile Trader is designed for the feature-hungry active trader.

Having two separate apps has its noticeable pros and cons.

Having two separate apps has its noticeable pros and cons. On the pros side, the apps can hone in on their individual target users and provide a specific experience. On the cons side, it is easy to confuse the two apps initially and not know which one is right for you. Also, some of the functionality that is built for one could really be beneficial on the other, for example basic price alerts, so it can be tricky at times to find the right home as a client.

TD Ameritrade Mobile Trader quote

Looking at specific functionality, TD Ameritrade Mobile Trader is “where the magic happens,” so to speak. Advanced charting, with a staggering 328 different technical studies, is available alongside a full array of order options. An extremely smooth interface for advanced equities trades as well as a seamless experience for complex options trades are compelling features. In my view, this combination is the best in the industry.

TD Ameritrade Mobile Trader stock chart

In 2015, TD Ameritrade released in-app chat support and mobile desktop linking, both for the Mobile Trader app. In-app chat support allows users to use their mobile devices and chat with a customer service agent for live help, which includes screen sharing. Linking enables users to link the thinkorswim desktop platform to the Mobile Trader app. Click on the quotes tab, select a color next to the search bar that matches a chart or similar in thinkorswim, then pull up any quote, and thinkorswim will follow suite.

In 2016, the updates were across the board. With TD Ameritrade Mobile, highlights included Touch ID login alongside customized positions and watch list views, and the addition of Social Signals analysis. A Windows 10 app was also launched. For Mobile Trader, access to saved orders was added with deeper linking to thinkorswim desktop.

TD Ameritrade Mobile Trader watchlist

It would be great to see screening and advanced alerts added to TD Ameritrade’s Mobile Trader in 2017. In TD Ameritrade Mobile, it would also be nice to be able to chart portfolio performance against the overall market and be able to set basic price alerts.

When all 52 variables are factored in for the Mobile Trading category, TD Ameritrade came away with 95% of possible points in our 2017 Review, edging out long-time industry leader E*TRADE, and taking first place overall.

When all 52 variables are factored in for the Mobile Trading category, TD Ameritrade came away with 95% of possible points in our 2017 Review, edging out long-time industry leader E*TRADE, and taking first place overall.

Other Notes

Regarding TD Ameritrade’s educational offering, the company was again the only broker to ace the category in our 2017 Review and receive a perfect five-star rating. Over 200 videos are available, including endless education webinars and articles through thinkMoney magazine and The Ticker Tape. Content is organized into courses with quizzes and the chance to earn points alongside badges to encourage further learning.

TD Ameritrade education learning center

TD Ameritrade also extends education into colleges across the United States with its annual thinkorswim Challenge. October 2016 was the third challenge, in which 726 teams across 49 states competed.

Finally yet importantly, TD Ameritrade entered the robo advisor space in 2016 with the launch of TD Ameritrade Essential Portfolios. Read our full review of TD Ameritrade Essential Portfolios.

Final Thoughts

TD Ameritrade is one of those companies that just gets it. They understand their clients and the value of a high-quality user experience, and they know what it takes to stay ahead of the competition.

Any investor, new or seasoned, will find TD Ameritrade a great fit for their needs. The main gripe with the broker is cost, but what you pay for is what you get, and the quality delivered by TD Ameritrade is, undoubtedly worth the extra few dollars per trade.

For online investing and trading in 2017, TD Ameritrade ranks #1 Overall.

Methodology

For our 2017 Stock Broker Review we assessed, rated, and ranked sixteen different online brokers over a period of six months. In total, we conducted 349 customer service tests, collected 5,277 data points, and produced over 40,000 words of research. How we test.

View all TD Ameritrade Fees & Features
Blain Reinkensmeyer

Reviewed by Blain Reinkensmeyer Blain heads research at StockBrokers.com and has been involved in the markets since placing his first stock trade back in 2001. He developed StockBrokers.com's annual review format seven years ago, a format broker executives consider the most thorough in the industry. Blain currently maintains funded accounts with more than a dozen different US-regulated online brokers and has executed thousands of trades throughout his career. He enjoys sharing his experiences through his personal blog, StockTrader.com.


Ratings Overall

Summary

Offering of Investments
Platforms & Tools
Research
Customer Service
Banking

Best in Class

2017
 1

Overall
  • Overall
  • Offering of Investments
  • Platforms & Tools
  • Research
  • Customer Service
  • Mobile Trading
  • Ease of Use
  • Investor Education
  • Active Trading
  • Options Trading
  • New Investors
2016
 2

Overall
  • Overall
  • Offering of Investments
  • Platforms & Tools
  • Research
  • Customer Service
  • Mobile Trading
  • Ease of Use
  • Investor Education
  • Active Trading
  • Options Trading
  • New Investors
2015
 1

Overall
  • Overall
  • Offering of Investments
  • Platforms & Tools
  • Research
  • Customer Service
  • Mobile Trading
  • Ease of Use
  • Investor Education
  • Active Trading
  • Options Trading
  • New Investors
2014
 1

Overall
  • Overall
  • Platforms & Tools
  • Research
  • Customer Service
  • Mobile Trading
  • Ease of Use
  • Investor Education
  • Active Trading
  • Options Trading
  • New Investors
2013
 1

Overall
  • Overall
  • Platforms & Tools
  • Research
  • Customer Service
  • Mobile Trading
  • Ease of Use
  • Investor Education
  • Active Trading
  • Options Trading
  • New Investors

TD Ameritrade Competitors

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All pricing data was obtained from a published web site as of 2/20/2017 and is believed to be accurate, but is not guaranteed. The StockBrokers.com staff is constantly working with its online broker representatives to obtain the latest pricing data. If you believe any data listed above is inaccurate, please contact us using the link at the bottom of this page. For stock trade rates, advertised pricing is for a standard order size of 500 shares of stock priced at $30 per share. For options orders, an options regulatory fee per contract may apply.

TD Ameritrade, Inc. and StockBrokers.com are separate, unaffiliated companies and are not responsible for each other’s services and products. Options are not suitable for all investors as the special risks inherent to options trading may expose investors to potentially rapid and substantial losses. Options trading privileges subject to TD Ameritrade review and approval. Please read Characteristics and Risks of Standardized Options before investing in options. Offer valid for one new Individual, Joint or IRA TD Ameritrade account opened by 09/30/2017 and funded within 60 calendar days of account opening with $3,000 or more. To receive $100 bonus, account must be funded with $25,000-$99,999. To receive $300 bonus, account must be funded with $100,000-$249,999. To receive $600 bonus, account must be funded with $250,000 or more. Offer is not valid on tax-exempt trusts, 401k accounts, Keogh plans, Profit Sharing Plan, or Money Purchase Plan. Offer is not transferable and not valid with internal transfers, accounts managed by TD Ameritrade Investment Management, LLC, TD Ameritrade Institutional accounts, and current TD Ameritrade accounts or with other offers. Qualified commission-free Internet equity, ETF or options orders will be limited to a maximum of 250 and must execute within 90 calendar days of account funding. Contract, exercise, and assignment fees still apply. Limit one offer per client. Account value of the qualifying account must remain equal to, or greater than, the value after the net deposit was made (minus any losses due to trading or market volatility or margin debit balances) for 12 months, or TD Ameritrade may charge the account for the cost of the offer at its sole discretion. TD Ameritrade reserves the right to restrict or revoke this offer at any time. This is not an offer or solicitation in any jurisdiction where we are not authorized to do business. Please allow 3-5 business days for any cash deposits to post to account. Taxes related to TD Ameritrade offers are your responsibility. Retail values totaling $600 or more during the calendar year will be included in your consolidated Form 1099. Please consult a legal or tax advisor for the most recent changes to the U.S. tax code and for rollover eligibility rules. (Offer Code 264) TD Ameritrade Inc., member FINRA/SIPC. TD Ameritrade is a trademark jointly owned by TD Ameritrade IP Company, Inc. and The Toronto-Dominion Bank. © 2016 TD Ameritrade IP Company, Inc. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

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